Manchester: Lionel Andrés Messi begins his road to World Cup redemption on Friday as Argentina take on Italy in a glamour friendly, desperate to win a major international prize to crown his glorious career.
In Barcelona’s colours, Messi has experienced nothing but success, winning eight La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns. But pulling on Argentina’s blue-and-white striped shirt has brought the forward some of the most painful moments of his career.
Lionel Andrés Messi, born 24 June 1987, is an Argentine professional footballer who plays as a forward for Spanish club Barcelona and the Argentina national team. Often considered the best player in the world and regarded by many as the greatest of all time, Messi has a record-tying five Ballon d’Or awards, four of which he won consecutively, and a record-tying four European Golden Shoes. He has spent his entire professional career with Barcelona, where he has won 30 trophies, including eight La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League titles, and five Copas del Rey.
Both a prolific goalscorer and a creative playmaker, Messi holds the records for most official goals scored in La Liga (374), a La Liga season (50), a club football season in Europe (73), a calendar year (91), El Clásico (25), as well as those for most assists made in La Liga (149) and the Copa América (11). He has scored over 600 senior career goals for club and country.
Rarely able to hit the same heights with Argentina that he routinely scales with Barcelona, Messi has endured stinging criticism from ‘Albiceleste’ fans at times.
Nobody would dispute Messi’s status as one of the all-time greats, but many in Argentina believe he cannot be considered on the same level as Diego Maradona until he wins a major honour with his country, as his compatriot did at the 1986 World Cup.
Rubbing salt into those wounds, Messi has lost in three successive major finals with Argentina as the 2014 World Cup and the 2015 and 2016 Copa America titles slipped from his grasp.
The last World Cup was devastating to Messi as he missed a golden opportunity to put Argentina ahead in the final against Germany, who went on to win 1-0 in extra-time.
Although Messi is still in his prime, the 30-year-old realises the World Cup in Russia, which starts in June, could represent his last chance to hoist the famous gold trophy.
He will be approaching the twilight of his career by the time the 2022 edition kicks off in Qatar. Messi will have also noted that key Argentina team-mates Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Nicolas Otamendi and Javier Mascherano will all be 30 or over this year.
Argentina is one of the most successful national football teams in the world, having won 2 World Cups in 1978 and 1986. Argentina has been runners-up three times in 1930, 1990 and 2014. The team was present in all but four of the World Cups, being behind only Brazil, Italy and Germany in the number of appearances. Argentina has also won the Copa América 14 times, one less than Uruguay.
Moreover, Argentina has also won the Confederations Cup and the gold medal at the Olympic football tournament in 2004 and 2008. Prior to that occasion, Argentina had obtained two silver medals in the 1928 and 1996 editions. On other levels of international competition, Argentina has won the FIFA U-20 World Cup a record six times. The FIFA U-17 World Cup is the only FIFA international competition yet to be obtained.